Female Fight Squad

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“Clubbed to death.”

This was originally known as Female Fight Club. I presume the title was changed after a strongly-worded letter from David Fincher’s lawyers, perhaps to evoke thoughts of its star’s stunt work on Suicide Squad. It’s interesting, because Amy Johnston’s previous feature, Lady Bloodfight also underwent a similar title change before release. Unfortunately, this isn’t as good. It reminds me a bit of the films Zoë Bell appeared in, early on in her career. She was usually the best thing in them, but they still weren’t up to much, because Bell was still finding her feet as an actress. Similarly here, there’s no denying Johnston’s talents in motion, yet this does not offer a good setting in which they can be appreciated.

For where Bloodfight played to her strength and packed in wall-to-wall action, here she’s required to do the dramatic lifting here and… Well, let’s just say, when you’re out-acted by Dolph Lundgren, it’s never a good thing.  The story is no better than boilerplate nonsense as well. Rebecca (Johnston) is a former fighter who now works in an animal shelter, because cute puppies. She is forced out of retirement to help her sister, Kate (Palm), who is a hundred grand in debt to some very nasty people. They are led by the creepy Landon Jones (Goyos) and his well-stocked freezer, which is used not solely to store his chosen variety of ice-cream. And he just happens to run an underground all-women fight ring, which Rebecca can enter. What are the odds? Meanwhile, the sisters’ father (Lundgren) is in prison, serving time for a crime he may or may not have committed, and has his own issues to deal with there.

Cue the rolling of eyes. It all rumbles along, from one cliché to the next, and if you’ve seen as many straight-to-video action flicks of the past couple of decades as I have, you’ll understand why this one largely failed to register. The only saving grace are the fights, which are well-enough staged. Johnston clearly knows her stuff, and there is good support from other women with a similar background, such as Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez, playing Landon’s top fighter, known as “Claire the Bull”.  The problem is, there just aren’t enough of these scenes, and the film escalates, inexplicably, to a fight between Rebecca and Landon. The latter was never established as any kind of bad-ass previously, so this makes little or no sense.

I’m still excited to see where Johnston goes from things like this. Right now, she has some room for improvement, both on the acting side and in her choice of projects. But both of these are areas where more experience should naturally lead to positive development. That’s exactly what happened with regard to Bell, who has worked her way up to become of the more reliable action actresses. I get the feeling Johnston has much the same potential, and there’s certainly room for them both in the field.

Dir: Miguel A. Ferrer
Star: Amy Johnston, Cortney Palm, Rey Goyos, Dolph Lundgren

Fight Valley

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“Ring around the poses.”

The results of bringing female MMA fighters to the screen have been a bit mixed, shall we say. Gina Carano has looked decent in her films, but Ronda Rousey’s performances have been roundly criticized, and her Mile 22 project appears dead in the water. The performance by the recently retired from MMA Miesha Tate, which is likely the film’s major selling-point, rates… somewhere in the middle. She doesn’t disgrace herself – but that may be partly because there is no shortage of other weaknesses to criticize here. Tate is convincing in her role – yet since she’s playing a mixed martial-artist, it’s hardly proof of any acting ability. But I guess, everyone has to start somewhere, and a thinly-disguised version of yourself is a good place to begin.

The film’s heroine, though, is Windsor (Celek), part of a separated family. She lives with her mother in a well-to-do part of New Jersey; her sister, Tory, lives with Dad in a far more dangerous neck of the woods, and is persistently getting into street brawls. Tory asks Windsor for money and is spurned, only to turn up beaten to death later. Windsor goes slumming to investigate, with the help of Tory’s lesbian lover, Duke (O’Brien), and discovers her late sister was involved in underground fights. In the time-honoured trope of B-grade martial-arts films, Windsor decides to strap on the gloves so she can find and take revenge on Tory’s killer, convincing the reluctant Jabs (and this character is where Tate comes in) to train her for this purpose.

According to the IMDb, the budget here was twenty-seven million dollars. If true, I have no clue quite where that went, because this is absolutely the kind of film that could be churned out for a a million and change. It’s not like there are any name stars here, unless you count the bevy of UFC people who show up in minor roles: as well as Tate, the film also includes Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm and Cindy Dandois, among others. Though despite the poster shown, the non-Tate roles are barely cameos. Certainly, the script consists of little more than a selection of random clichés, as it lumbers towards a conclusion you would have to be legally blind not to see approaching. Hawk’s background in music videos is painfully apparent, and O’Brien is the only person here who comes out with much real credit, playing Duke in a way that is credible and, hence, surprisingly scary. She isn’t someone whose drink you’d want to spill in a bar, put it that way.

What sinks the movie is Celek, who is woeful: thoroughly unconvincing at every step of her implausible journey from Disney princess to hard-as-nails brawler, supposedly capable of going toe-to-toe with Cyborg. If they’d kept the film on the streets, since it does a semi-decent job of capturing a world where everyone operates on a hair-trigger, and had Duke trying to revenge her lover’s death, this might have had a chance of being more than the thoroughly forgettable project, deserving little more than a quick, straight-to-video death.

Dir: Rob Hawk
Star: Susie Celek, Erin O’Brien, Miesha Tate, Cabrina Collesides

Mary Kom

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“Firsts of fury…”

marykomThis was far from our first traditionally “Bollywood” film, but was the first such with what could be described as an action heroine. Traditionally, the women in Bollywood films are relegated to love interests for the square-jawed heroes. Not that this necessarily makes for a bad film [far from it, some are enormously entertaining], just that they don’t fall within the remit of our coverage here. This one squarely does, although also succumbs to many of the clichés of plucky underdog sports stories, shamelessly manipulating what was already an impressive story, purely to tug on the cinematic heart-strings.

The heroine is Mangte Chungeijang Kom (Chopra), the tomboyish daughter of a poor rice-farmer (Das), whose quick temper has got her into trouble more than once. Her parents try to deflect this energy into sports, but when she stumbles into a gym run by the stern coach Narjit Singh (Thapa), she realizes that’s her true calling, and begins training there with the knowledge of her mother, but not her father. When he finds out, he gives Mary an ultimatum: boxing or her family. Guess how that goes. She becomes world champion in her weight class, but then gives up the sport for marriage and to start a family. However, unable to settle down, her husband (Kumaar) convinces Mary to make a comeback, something rarely seen after becoming a mother. She’ll face obstacles, not just from her opponents, but also from her own body, the sport’s administrators and the distraction of a child’s health issues.

Wisely, Kumar avoids the traditional staged musical numbers, instead incorporating the songs which are almost de rigeur for Bollywood, into things such as multiple training montages. Some are more effective than others, and as noted, it does tend to fall into the trap of shallow stereotypes too often. I’m not sure about Chopra, who certainly is nowhere near as well-muscled as the poster would have you believe, and the fights themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. However, Chopra’s acting talents are certainly up to the task, and if the final reel is factually dubious, Kumar throws everything but the kitchen sink into its depiction and, much like Mary herself, pulls off an unlikely victory – albeit by a split decision on points. With a central character that’s not only a woman, but one from an area of India barely regarded as part of the country, credit is certainly due for pushing the boundaries of popular Indian cinema. It’s just a shame there was no such sense of adventure with the well-worn storyline.

Dir: Omung Kumar
Star: Priyanka Chopra, Darshan Kumaar, Sunil Thapa, Robin Das

Girl’s Blood

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“All over the bloody place.”

girls blood2I’m very confused, at to who is the target audience here. It’s part earnest drama about serious social issues, including gender identity and spousal abuse. But it also depicts a hardcore underground fight-club, “Girl’s Blood” in which women battle it out for the gratification of spectators. However, don’t expect a Japanese version of Raze, for while the fights are well-staged [Sakamoto has a good track record, most recently having done 009-1: The End of the Beginning], it has all the class of WWE’s Divas division and amateur night at your local strip-club, combined. For it panders shamelessly to every sexist stereotype imaginable, from sexy nurse through sexy schoolgirl to sexy idol singer. And don’t even get me started on the mud wrestling, filmed with such prurient camerawork, I was genuinely embarrassed for the participants. Then there’s copious and lengthy lesbian sex scenes, which appear to have strayed in from another genre altogether, albeit filmed with a good deal more style and bigger budgets than usual for such fare.

The central character is Satsuki (Haga), the club’s best fighter, but who is estranged from her family and refuses to change with the other girls. Her position as top dog is challenged by the arrival of Chinatsu (Tada), well-versed in MMA techniques. After the two have become close, personal friends, if you know what I mean, and I think you do, it turns out that she’s working without the knowledge of her abusive husband (Hideo) , a karate master who is unimpressed by the unsanctioned nature of these bouts. He abducts Chinatsu and brainwashes her back into submission; worse, still, he threatens to have Girl’s Blood closed down. There’s only one way to settle things: that old chestnut of a school-vs-school battle, in which his top three students will face off against Satsuki two of her colleagues: if they win, Girl’s Blood becomes official, but if they lose, they will have to disband forever [because, apparently, this is how sanctioning martial-arts works in Japan]. You will be unsurprised to hear this contest all comes down to the final match, which sees Satsuki facing off against Chinatsu.

I watched the Director’s Cut version which runs 128 minutes, and wonder if this is perhaps part of the problem; maybe the regular edition has a better consistency of tone or genre. Personally, I dug the action (and, fortunately, there’s no shortage), was disinterested in the drama, and gave severe consideration to fast-forwarding through the soft-core porn, while giving thanks under my breath that my wife was out. Not that she minds: however, the stream of sarcastic comments which would surely have resulted, might well have sunk what chance the film had of any serious evaluation. I’d be hard-pushed to argue with her in this case. While this could truly be described as a film with something for everyone, there are equally significant elements which will be of no interest – or even actively off-putting – for just about anybody. If the creators had made their minds up what they wanted this to be, the end result would likely have been stronger.

Dir: Koichi Sakamoto
Star: Yuria Haga, Asami Tada, Ayame Misaki, Sakaki Hideo
a.k.a. Aka X Pinku

 

Maisie Undercover: Shadow Boxer

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“Sucker punched”

maisieThis review is more in the nature of a warning than a critique, since it would be easy for someone to look at the cover (right) and think that this might be a movie about – oh, I dunno, boxing? It seems a reasonable expectation, given the following synopsis:

After her partner is mercilessly gunned down, sexy, streetwise cop Maisie turns in her badge and turns to the relative safety behind the bar of a hip new joint she names Dames. It doesn’t compare to the rush of danger she gets on the streets but it keeps her out of trouble – until trouble finds her in the form of a guy, a dead girlfriend and a probable Mob connection. Now that familiar adrenaline is pumping again as she goes deep undercover with the hot and hardened women who make up the volatile world of female boxing. Will Maisie solve the murder before someone else is “knocked out?”

While none of the above is technically a lie, I should probably have done a little due diligence, and perhaps noticed that the first word on the cover is “Sexy.” For this is actually soft-core porn, with the plot little more than a thin excuse to link together the sex scenes, which take place with such regularity you could set your watch by them. And you’ll certainly be checking your watch with a high degree of frequency. Not that I’m averse to pornography by definition – indeed, not too far down the line, I’ll be writing about a hard-core version of Nikita – but it’s all about expectations. I watched this one on a chilly Tuesday morning, fortunately when Chris was out of the house; however, I still had a somewhat tricky conversation with my son. “Isn’t 9:30am a bit early for porn?” he said sardonically. Why, yes. Yes, it is. Though I’m pleased at least to see he does appear to have picked up my tendency for ironic commentary during his college years.

I supposed I should briefly mention the film, which could have been interesting. White even has some potential, as former cop turned private eye Maisie Calloway [a character she played in two other films the same year, which I will not be rushing to see]. She has a bumpy past, separated from her cop husband, and whose partner was, as the synopsis says, killed – apparently in a previous movie, because it plays no significant part here. Indeed, the storyline is far more of an afterthought, treated as if its of no real concern. I suppose that’s fair enough, but if you’re going to make soft porn, you should at least have the honesty to promote and sell it as soft porn, and not pretend it’s something which the film most definitely isn’t.

Dir: J.W. McHausen
Star: Charlie White, Joey Ray, Nick Manning, Nicole Oring
a.k.a. Twisted Temptations

In the Blood

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“Definitely not produced in association with the Dominican Republic Tourist Board.”

inthebloodWhat? Gina Carano in another action flick? Why was I not informed of this? After all, Haywire was an undeniably impressive entry in the genre, featuring some of the crunchiest mayhem seen in a while. Throw in that this was directed by Stockwell, who directed the hidden gem, Cat Run, and my interest was thoroughly piqued. Sadly, this isn’t up to the level of either, though certainly has its moments. Carano plays Ava Grant, an ex-junkie who met her other half, Derek (Gigandet) at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, but whose murky past is clearly far beyond that of her husband. Ava’s father brought her up tough, and able to protect herself, basing her life on mantras such as, “Survivors have scars. Losers have funerals.” We see, in flashback, that she was an apt student.

Meanwhile, in the present day, she and Derek marry, despite the qualms of his father, who thinks she’s only after money, and honeymoon in the Dominican Republic [played by Puerto Rico, which one imagines was happy to portray a rival tourist destination as a crime-infested hellhole], where they’re befriended by a local, Manny (Cordova). He talks them into a zip-lining expedition, despite after a nasty encounter at a nightclub with local gangster, Big Biz (Danny Trejo). An accident results in Derek being whizzed off to hospital, but when Ava gets there, she finds no trace of him can be found, and the local police chief (Guzman) is less than enthusiastic about investigating. What’s a girl to do? Well, if you’re an expertly-trained fighter with a hair-trigger temper and a grudge, you start off at the zip-line facility, and work your way, methodically and with malice aforethought, up the chain from there, until you find the people responsible.

It works, much as Haywire did, because Carano is entirely convincing as someone who could kick your ass, and is just choosing not to. Indeed, the version here is scarier, in that she has less restraint, but shares the same terse effectiveness; the ass-kicking will be swift, merciless, and to the point. The problem here is the script, which has huge gaps in logic. For instance, at one point Ava is in what’s supposed to be an utterly lawless barrio. But five seconds after firing her gun, sirens sound, and she just sits there. A little later, she shows up in the house of the police chief; how does she know where he lives? It just seems very sloppily plotted, and that’s before we get to the reason for the abduction, which severely strains credulity [though won’t be much of a surprise, if you’ve seen another Stockwell film, Turistas, which painted a similarly unflattering portrait of Brazil] It’s still worth seeing, purely for Carano’s magnificent intensity – but almost purely for that. And Danny Trejo, of course!

Dir: John Stockwell
Star: Gina Carano, Cam Gigandet, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Luis Guzman

Kick Ass Girls

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“Girls just wanna have… Boxing gyms?”

kickassgirls2Boo (Chow) owns a failing boxing gym, and largely survives only by catering to masochistic geeks, with fantasies of being beaten up by Lara Croft, etc. To try and recoup customers driven away by her abrasive style, she hires the bubbly Miu (Lo), as a replacement for childhood friend TT (Yu), with whom she broke up after a spat over a man. Just as Miu brokers a reconciliation, the trio get an unexpected job offer, to work in Indonesia as bodyguards for the mysterious Lady Zhuge (Tong). Except, they eventually discover, this was just a lure to bring them in as fresh meat for her all-female fight club, where they must battle to the death.

The intriguingly-named director is making her feature debut, having been an actress and screenwriter, after getting her start as a teenage DJ on Hong Kong radio. It’s certainly unusual to see this kind of film directed by a woman, but it seems to work, particularly in regard to the characters, who are rather more well-rounded than usual for the genre. GC also plays Zhuge’s Goth personal assistant, who may be the most endearing of the lot, and she nails the cliches of that group impeccably. The film can be divided into three sections. The first is mostly comedic; the second, after the women go to Indonesia, is the least successful, and appears to have strayed in from a chick flick; however, the third includes the bulk of the action, and is a satisfactorily crunchy finale.

There isn’t much of a character arc for anyone, and the interview used as a framing device is a mis-step, since it destroys any sense of suspense, over who will survive and what will be left of them. But I sense that suspense isn’t particularly what this is about; it’s rather concerned with light comedy, moderate martial arts, and lead actresses who generally look good doing whatever it is they’re doing. As such, even if these are undeniably low-hanging fruit, it succeeds admirably, and I’ll admit, I laughed more than I expected, especially in the early going. If this falls uncomfortably between about three different genres, and isn’t great at any of them, by no means is it horrible at them either, and I was more than adequately entertained.

Dir: Goo-Bi GC
Star: Chrissie Chow, Dada Lo, Hidy Yu, Chris Tong


Bonus: Behind the scenes footage

Punch Lady

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“Battered wife = comedy gold. Or not.”

punch ladyNot unlike The Opponent, this centers on a battered woman, who takes up the pugilistic arts in an attempt to regain control of her life. The big difference here is that, for a great chunk of its running time, this is played for laughs. Yeah: spousal abuse as a topic for broad comedy. Oh, those wacky Koreans! Sarcasm aside, it makes for somewhat uncomfortable viewing, simply because such an approach would be almost inconceivable as a mainstream project in the West, due to the backlash. And this certainly was mainstream in Korea, getting a wide, national release – though it bombed, with its box-office performance described as “shockingly bad.” So maybe the Koreans aren’t quite as different from us after all…

The heroine is Ha-eun (To), who has the misfortune to be married to Joo-Chang (Park) and his vicious temper. Worse still, he’s a champion in mixed martial-arts, and doesn’t hesitate to use his ring skills on her and their daughter (Choi). But when he kills an opponent, an ex-boyfriend of Ha-eun, she storms the post-fight press conference, berating him and challenging him to fight her in the ring, rather than outside it. He agrees to do so, with one hand literally tied, and the custody of their daughter going to the winner. No legitimate trainer will touch her, but she finds a much more dubious coach in Soo-hyeon (Son), who is actually her daughter’s Math teacher, and is about to turn the gym into a nursery. However, funded by her ex-boyfriend’s life-insurance policy, of which she was the beneficiary, Ha-eun makes Soo-hyeon a generous offer. He accepts, taking classes at from Joo-chang’s gym, so he can stay one step ahead of his pupil as he trains her for the big fight.

Of course, a huge amount of disbelief needs to be suspended here, not least in the assertion that any legitimate MMA organization would sanction such a match – nothing good could come of it – or that someone (regardless of gender) could go toe-to-toe with an MMA champion, after only a few weeks of training from a clueless adviser. Not happening. It’s also hugely uneven in tone, an almost inevitable flaw as a result of the decision to take the story and treat it largely as the basis for goofy antics. This is at odds with the opening, and also the battle at the end, which is genuinely uncomfortable to watch, as Joo-Chang beats the shit out of Ha-Eun (at least initially; I don’t think saying so deserves classification as a spoiler). I have to say, Kang does a fabulous job of shooting the fight itself: whatever the other weaknesses, he nails it, keeping things interesting and tense throughout. The rest, however, probably needed to go in some different directions to be successful; perhaps, play up the media hysteria more. That said, I think I can say, with a fair degree of confidence, you won’t have seen anything quite like this, and even for that alone, this deserves credit.

Dir: Hyo-jin Kang
Star
: Ji-Won To, Sang-Wook Park, Hyeon-ju Son, Seol-ri Choi

The Opponent

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“Lacking in punch.”

the opponentPatty (Eleniak) is in an abusive relationship, but finds an outlet through an unconventional source – boxing. This comes through her friend June (Ellis), who works occasionally as a ring-girl for a promoter (Doman). One of his fighters is Tommy (Colby), a part-time boxer whose main source of income is as a limo driver, but also helps run a gym in the upstate New York city of Troy, which helps keep the local kids out of trouble. Reluctantly, he agrees to train Patty, who develops, not only physical strength as a result, but the self-confidence to handle her situation.

If only she used it. This is the kind of story which feels like it could have been a Lifetime or Hallmark TV movie, but the makers appear to be opting for something slightly grittier, though it rarely gets far away from tired clichés, You just know that Patty and Tommy are eventually going to fall into bed with each other; the pacing here might have been better had they done so sooner, rather than later, as this does then add a different dynamic to their relationship. The other problem is that Eleniak, despite dirtying-up for the role, is rarely even remotely convincing as a boxer: there’s a difference between “fit” and “fit for battle.” This is never clearer than when facing her nemesis, Red Lennox – she’s played by Andrea Nelson, a real boxer, who went 7-0 in 2000, the year this was made, and the difference in physique is painfully obvious. One person is playing a role; the other is living a life, and the obvious gap makes it hard to suspend disbelief.

I actually quite liked the performances: Doman has something of the late James Gandolfini about him, Colby is engaging and, perhaps surprisingly, Eleniak holds her own. [I was going to say I’d only ever seen her in Baywatch, but I then remembered her role in another GWG flick, Lady Jayne Killer] However, the decent sense of character development comes largely at the expense of a narrative that meanders aimlessly in circles, before petering out in an ending that might have been deliberately created to provoke a reaction of “Huh,” given the lack of closure to any of the major threads woven into the storyline. As a character study, this is fine; however, the lack of dramatic energy saps the interest and leaves it looking rocky, rather than Rocky.

Dir: Eugene Jarecki
Star: Erika Eleniak, James Colby, Aunjanue Ellis, John Doman

Raze

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“Raze-ing the standard.”

 It’s interesting to read other reviews, which span the range from “This ugly, dull and idiotic actioner doesn’t know if it wants be fun or grim. It winds up simply bring deplorable exploitation,” to “an incredible action film… giving viewers exactly what it promises to give without pulling any punches or wasting time. I absolutely loved it.” This seems to be one of the cases where your preexisting mindset may determine your reaction, as much as any qualities of the movie. There’s not really any other way I can see, to explain a reaction like the former. I mean, “deplorable exploitation”? Really? There’s no nudity at all, and indeed, the basic plot is familiar from any number of films with male protagonists, which somehow managed to avoid such sniffy critiques. Rather than JCVD, say, being forced to kick arse in an underground fighting tournament, it’s Zoë Bell. I’m down with this, and also find the complete lack of any romantic interest, for example, a refreshing change [as contrast, we watched this the same day as Killer Women, which wheeled out so many clichés, it needed a separate trailer for them].

It does throw something of a left-turn at the beginning, starting with Jamie (Rachel Nichols) waking to find herself in an underground bunker. More casual viewers – which would not be anyone here, we trust – will assume she’s the heroine. They’re in for a nasty shock, as she meets another prisoner, Sabrina (Bell), and in the ensuing fight, Jamie’s head is reduced to something resembling an uncooked pizza, in both shade and texture. Sabrina is apparently ahead of the curve, being aware of what’s going on. 50 women have been hand-picked for their fighting ability, and have been abducted to take part in a series of fights to the death, their participation ensured by threats to their loved ones [it’s implied that women are more susceptible even though, for example, Sabrina gave up the daughter at risk for adoption over a decade ago]. This is under the control of Joseph (Jones) and his equally-nutty wife Elizabeth (Fenn), who appear to have been at this for some time, providing viewing pleasure of a select group of spectators, though the logistics are left kinda vague.

Of the 50, we see only one small corner, less than ten of the women, focusing on Sabrina as she makes her way through the competition. It’s obvious from the first time we see the others who her nemesis is going to be. Phoebe (Marshall) appears to be genuinely enjoying the chance to unleash her inner psychopath, and to some extent, you’re left to twiddle your thumbs waiting for the inevitable face-off to occur. The other women, including fellow Death Proof alumni, Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms, aren’t given much more than extended cameos: while still personalities to some degree, these are quick sketches, not enough to do more than trigger a vague burst of sympathy, before their lifeless corpses are being dragged out of the stone-lined ring. However, Sabrina vs. Phoebe is far from being the end of the matter. Indeed, it’s thereafter that things become most interesting, as we eventually enter what the inter-title accurately calls “Sabrina vs. everybody.” This includes an amusing, brief appearance by Saw‘s Leigh Whannell, who disses Bell’s home country, and pays the price, almost before he can finish the sentence.

If the action is good to very good, it’s just a little disappointing, in part I suspect because none of the other women are up to Bell’s high standard of work. I should stress, they certainly don’t suck: however, the gap between her and them is obvious, and a longer climax, pitting Sabrina against guards closer to her skill-set would have been welcome. The fights are also much of a muchness in terms of style: while the tournament cliché often has different martial-arts forms battling for dominance, the cliché makes sense, as it allows for variety. Here, not so much, and the uniform look of white vest and sweat-pants worn by all competitors also tends to leave them merging in to each other as you look back. That said, they’re brutal to the max, Waller keeping the camera in very tight to enhance this aspect. There’s one moment, involving a face being repeatedly introduced to the wall, which reminded me of The Raid, and any comparison to the best action film of the last decade is a good thing. However, it’s perhaps telling that I couldn’t tell you without checking, which two competitors were fighting at the time.

slice-razeOn the other hand, the acting was certainly much better than in the male versions of the storyline mentioned earlier. You’ve seen Jones before, but probably under make-up, e.g. as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy films, and he chews the scenery at just the right level of intensity here for an insane villain, with Fenn not far behind, and as much fun to watch. [I was somewhat reminded of the antagonist in ferocious French horror film Martyrs: both have their own, vastly twisted agenda, and don’t give a damn who gets hurt as a result] I already mentioned Marshall, but it’s Bell who gets the most screen time, and the most difficult role, having to provide the film with an emotional heart while smashing heads, and not having much dialogue to speak of. Instead, it’s mostly a physical performance – which may work to Bell’s advantage. Regardless, I’d say it succeeds, particularly on a visceral level: if you don’t cheer when Sabrina charges out of the cell, on her way to the long-awaited, no-holds barred confrontation with Phoebe, you’re far more phlegmatic than I.

The makers have said they weren’t going for any deep philosophical or moral meaning, and just wanted a female take on a male genre. Inevitably, it’s going to be treated as more by a lot of people, and I suspect it’ll end up being a cinematic Rorschach test, where people will see whatever they want to see. Looking for feminism? You’ll find it. Expecting exploitation? It’s there. However, I’m happy to take the end result purely at face value, and considering the budget was below a million dollars, can only conclude that – much like Bell herself – it punches well above its weight. There will be bigger action heroine films this year, certainly. Will there be any better ones? We’ll have to wait and see, since this has set the bar at a decent height, particularly for early January.

Dir: Josh C. Waller
Star: Zoe Bell, Doug Jones, Rebecca Marshall, Sherilyn Fenn